I’ve talked about exercise and running on here before, but I wanted to expound on it. This whole post is spurred on by The Oatmeal’s great comic he did on running and what it means to him. There was plenty that I related to in there, but there was some notable exceptions. I do recommend you go read it though, it is funny and a great portrayal of what many runners go through. Another inspiration was the semi-autobiographical story by Haruki Murakami and his love of running called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. I don’t want to compare and contrast their views to mine, but I do want to talk about running.
Now that no one else is reading thanks to that last sentence I think we are good to start. I was introduced to running by an ex-girlfriend of mine in high school, and at first I hated it with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. I did stick with it, partly for her sake, but mostly I needed to get in some kind of shape instead of being in many different shapes. So, I started running regularly, getting into the rhythms and feelings and I got hooked. Here we are eight years later, and I’m finally writing down my thoughts on it. Timely.
Why do people even run? I mean I guess initially it was either to get from point A to point B quicker and/or/probably to outrun dangerous predator’s gaping maws. We are pretty much past that now, I think, at least in the first world we are not often found running for travel or from predators. Now running is a purely recreational activity (for the sake of this post I do include exercise even though it’s for your health).
As a form of recreation it seems to be an odd one. Most people do things to either induce pleasure or reduce pain. Running kind of accomplishes both. Let’s first do away with the notion that people who run regularly are exempt from pain. Every day I run I am in pain. It is not an unbearable pain, it is just a constant, dull pain. Sure, you can run faster, longer, and have a shorter recovery period, but the pain is still there. Not to be melodramatic, but that is why I love it, the pain makes you feel alive.
While we are on the subject of pain, let’s get in touch with our emotional side. I know we are all strong, independent women here, but yes, I’m sure all of us have felt like life sauntered on up and out of nowhere punched us right in the solar plexus. For times like this, running is just about the best cure I can think of. The act takes your mind off of whatever happened, makes you exert all that negative energy, and releases sweet amounts of endorphins so you don’t tailspin into a depression cesspool of woe and misery. So next time you find yourself at the intersection of sad and super sad, throw on your running shoes and just go.
Running, when not done in a competitive environment, puts the onus of competition squarely on yourself. Mind V. Body in the purest sense. When you really get into the run all your body is doing is telling you to stop. The all too familiar pain begins to creep up, you start sweating, and your breathing is now labored. You have to stop, but you can’t stop. The dichotomy that is ever-present in the mind of the runner intensifies the small conquests you have along the way. If you can make it just a little farther, a little more, a little faster, for a little longer – mantras repeated to help keep the body silenced. If you wind up on the winning side of history you feel just gosh dang amazing.
There is a state called “The Runner’s High” where your body releases a bunch of endorphins and you feel an intense sense of empowerment. You feel like you can fight 10 snarling, vicious bear sharks and win. It is one of the best feelings I’ve experienced. I’ve heard people describe “The Runner’s High” as addictive. It definitely produces a feeling you want to chase down again. I’m not so much of a spiritual or religious person, but the post-run has to be as close to a spiritual moment as one can get without the aid of another human (SEX, GUYS, I AM TALKING ABOUT SEX HERE). It is like being awash in a sea of rainbows and puppy dogs. Dudes, it feels amazing.
When I run on the treadmill in the winter months I have something I like to call “The Two-Minute Hate.” Yes, inspired by one of my favorite books, 1984. I would do my normal workout, but for the last two minutes would increase the intensity to unsustainable levels. I did this to “leave nothing on the field” as sportsman say. For instance, if I was running on a 7, I would crank it to 8.5 for the first minute, and then 10 for the last minute. During that time your whole body is screaming. It takes everything to keep going, or worse, to keep from falling off the treadmill. During those two minutes everything is wrong. Everything is pain. All is chaos. However, after that two minutes, when you start to come down off the rage junket, order starts to return and the wave of ecstasy hits you. Now nothing could go wrong. This alone would be reason enough to run, but there is another, if not more important reason.
At any given time I have about five or six things running around in my head. My brain is terrible at managing and organizing them. Seriously, it is god awful. That’s why I have such a strong adherence to calendars and lists. Without it I would forget everything and not get anything done. I’ve said it before, but my brain is stupid. Unfortunately, the calendars and lists do nothing to deal with anything emotional or thought-provoking. If there is really a big problem I have to work through, I go for a run. Running is my meditation. Running is my time. While running all the crazy beasts bouncing off the inside my skull quiet down and I can focus, I can think. I can try to work though the issues plaguing me for the day and clear my head. Part of the reason for this focus I feel is the simplistic nature of running. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, but you know, more quickly than walking. All I have to do is remember to do that, which leaves my head free to tackle other things.
There is one more reason, the reason probably everyone cites, and that is health. Running works your heart out. If you are not aware your heart is that thing that is shaped like an upside down butt and totally hates cheeseburgers. You will see weight loss, but it is not as staggering as some other exercise plans. The Oatmeal points out in his comic, you will not start looking like Charles Atlas on running alone. You will start developing some mad stamina though. Plus, as an American, heart disease runs rampant in this corn-fed country so making that thing sweat a little is always a good idea.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it is AMAZING. Hot running. This week in particular has granted it its own subsection. It’s been roughly 100+ degrees Fahrenheit all week long and I’ve run every day in it. It is equal parts the best and worst. You know that feeling when you put the blanket over your head to block out the light or to get warm, but then all the hot air from your breath fills it up and it’s like stiflingly hot? Imagine that feeling, but gradually getting worse for your whole run while sweat pours out from you. That, my friend, is hot running, and it feels awful and great. It’s horrid for the obvious, stated reasons, but just about every part of that run feels like a victory. You fight to keep going and every foot more is a victory (Sorry people not in the US, for using all the wrong units. I love the metric system, let’s be best friends solely based on that.). It makes you feel human. It makes you feel alive.
Running is one of my favorite activities to do and it keeps me sane, healthy, and focused. My day feels unfulfilled when I have to miss. Maybe runners are a different breed and people think we are a tad askew, but I feel glad to be counted among the ranks. I stray from time to time, but I always come back and running is always right there waiting with a sign that says “Pick up the pace fatty.” I love you, too, running.